Ongwehowe people reject the First Nations Education Act

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The Mohawk Council of Kahnawa:ke issued a statement Monday condemning the Harper Government’s proposed First Nations Education Act.

MCK, who are the elected leadership of Kahnawa:ke, passed an Executive Directive declaring jurisdictional control of education in their community. The strongly worded document also demands a stop to the proposed FNEA, and condemns it being imposed on all First Nations.

The directive, signed by 11 members of Kahnawa:ke’s council leadership, closes with perhaps the strongest statement given publicly in opposition to the FNEA, saying “…the Mohawk Council of Kahnawa:ke calls upon other First Nations to formally reject the First Nations Education Act and condemn its imposition.”

Along with the directive comes a powerful open letter on behalf of the council from Grand Chief Micheal Ahrihron Delisle Jr. to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which reads, “Canada has obligations to consult with First Nations on legislative and policy matters that affect Aboriginal Rights, and we do not take your blatant disregard for these obligations lightly.”

Delisle continues to address Harper’s conservative government, calling them out for a “paternalistic, cavalier and – most important – unconstitutional actions in this most important matter.”

The letter, which can be read in its entirety on the MCK website, specifically brings up the example of implementing federal inspection of First Nations education saying it “reeks of Indian Agent monitoring…This is the most shameful example of paternalism we have witnessed in recent history.”

Chief Delisle closes the letter with a statement reminding Harper of the 2008 Residential Schools Apology. Delisle writes, “Unilaterally imposing legislation that does not account for the diverse, unique and rich cultural, linguistic, and historical qualities of First Nations can certainly not be viewed as reconciliatory.”

Kahnawa:ke’s Education Portfolio Chief Rhonda Kirby spoke with the Times saying, “We’ve been talking about it for several months now. There is an internal working group…looking at the FNEA and looking at how it would affect Kahnawa:ke. They are doing a line by line analysis of it.”

The focus group will be making presentations to the community to show what would happen to Kahnawa:ke if the FNEA is put through as it is proposed.

Kirby said, “Kahnawa:ke has been running our own education system since the early 70’s. It’s very offensive that at this point the Government of Canada is going to impose these regulations on us.”

Time is of the essence in regards to opposing the proposed FNEA. Kirby said, “We know Parliament will be closing for Christmas holidays and [the FNEA] is supposed to be read we hear at the beginning of the year. So we’re trying to make sure that our voices are heard and certainly to pass that message on to other First Nations and rally them up. We’re hoping that people will jump on board and do the same thing. That was why we pushed and signed off on the executive decision and we’ve sent it all out across the country.”

The Education Chief encourages all Ongwehowe communities to examine the FNEA and speak up if you are in opposition. “It’s important to really look at what the act is proposing and to really look at your community and to ensure what you have is preserved for the future.”

Kahnawa:ke Mohawks are not the only ones rejecting the proposed FNEA. Representation from nearly every province and territory across the nation have returned with a resounding, “no” to the proposed legislation. Monday morning AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo also submitted an open letter to the federal government. Atleo’s three page letter to Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt states, “…education of our children is a fundamental and sacred responsibility.” Atleo says the FNEA is “not acceptable” and that governments should instead work alongside First Nations to create a structure that is in alignment with Treaty Relationships, the UNDRIP and additional “countless studies and recommendations.”

Minister Valcourt previously released a statement on October 22nd, singing praises to the FNEA calling it a “a significant step forward, in the spirit of reconciliation”. Just two days later on October 24th, Chiefs of Ontario responded with a press release calling the FNEA a “major step backward” which “sets a path for a collision course with First Nations.”

Six Nations is not backing down from opposing the FNEA either. Six Nations Elected Band Council is promoting a Rally Against Proposed First Nations Education Act for December 4th, 11am at the AANDC office in Brantford. Band Council is also hosting a community meeting on the issue December 5th, 7pm at Six Nations Polytech.

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